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Service Releases Draft EIS on Resident Canada Geese

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 4, 2002

Contact:
Chris Tollefson, 202-208-5634
Dario Bard, 202-208-5634



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing the creation of a new regulation to allow State wildlife management agencies to actively manage populations of resident Canada geese that cause personal and public property damage and, in some cases, pose a threat to public health and safety.

Under the proposed alternative identified in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) released today, the Service would grant the States the authority to undertake approved population control strategies, such as nest and egg destruction, trapping and culling programs, and expanded hunting opportunities.

"The Service believes that the problems caused by resident Canada geese can be best addressed at the State level," said Service Director Steve Williams. "To that end, we are committed to providing State wildlife management agencies with as much flexibility as possible to address the issue."

The draft EIS evaluates a range of alternatives in relation to their ability to reduce and stabilize resident Canada goose populations, reduce conflicts with humans and minimize impacts to property and human health and safety. Aside from the proposed alternative, the EIS analyzes other alternatives, including continuing current management practices unchanged; implementing non-lethal methods such as harassment and habitat management designed to make areas less attractive to geese; expanded hunting opportunities; and creating various depredation orders allowing expanded lethal take of resident geese. A 90-day public comment period on the draft EIS will remain open until May 30, 2002.

Most Canada goose populations are migratory, wintering in the United States and migrating north to summer breeding grounds in the Canadian arctic. But a large availability of habitat, especially in urban and suburban areas where there are park-like open spaces with short grass adjacent to small bodies of water, has resulted in growing numbers of locally-breeding geese that live year round in the lower 48 states.

In temperate climates across the United States, these places provide geese with relatively stable breeding habitat and low numbers of predators. In addition, hunting is usually not allowed in urban and suburban areas, restricting the ability of state and local authorities to control populations using traditional methods. Those resident populations that do migrate often fly only short distances compared to their migratory relatives that breed in Canada. For these reasons, resident Canada goose populations enjoy consistently high reproduction and survival rates.

The Service estimates that there are 3.5 million resident Canada geese in the United States. Resident Canada goose populations in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways now exceed 1 million birds each and have increased an average of 14 and 6 percent per year, respectively, over the last 10 years. Indices of resident Canada geese in the Central Flyway are now approaching 1 million birds and populations in the western portions of the country have shown similar growth rates over the past 10 years.

Resident Canada geese are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and can only be legally taken during a hunting season, unless a special federal permit is obtained from the Service. The Service is in the process of drafting proposed regulations that would authorize the States to implement the proposed alternative and undertake a number of population control and management actions without having to go through the permit process.

Large flocks of resident Canada geese can denude grassy areas, including parks, pastures, golf courses, lawns, and other landscaped areas where there are ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water nearby. At airports, resident Canada geese have become a significant safety threat, resulting in dangerous takeoff and landing conditions and costly repairs to aircraft. Excessive goose droppings are also a health concern, and have contributed to the temporary closure of public beaches by local health departments in several States. In addition, agricultural and natural resource damage, including depredation of grain crops, overgrazed pastures, and degraded water quality have increased as resident Canada goose populations have grown.

The release of the draft environmental impact statement was announced in the March 1, 2002, Federal Register. The document is the result of a process that began in August 1999. Public input on the alternatives to be considered by the draft environmental impact statement was solicited through Federal Register notices on August 19 and December 30, 1999 and at a series of public meetings held in February and March 2000 across the country.

Written comments concerning the draft EIS should be addressed to the Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, ms 634 ARLSQ, 1849 C St., NW, Washington, D.C., 20240. Copies of the draft EIS are available at the same address or by calling the Service at 703-358-1714. The Service will schedule public meetings later this year, and the dates and locations will be announced in the Federal Register in March.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Services manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses nearly 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.



DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT ON RESIDENT CANADA GOOSE MANAGEMENT


Questions and Answers

The following document answers some common questions about the issue of overabundant resident Canada goose populations and the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed.

Question. What are resident Canada geese and how do they differ from other Canada geese?

Answer. Most of the 11 subspecies of Canada geese (Branta canadensis) are encountered in the lower 48 States only during the fall, winter and spring of the year and migrate to the arctic and sub-arctic regions of Canada and Alaska to nest. Some, however, stay in the U.S. year around. To distinguish these resident Canada geese from their migratory brethren, the Service identifies "resident Canada geese" as those that nest within the lower 48 States in the months of March, April, May, or June, and that reside within the lower 48 States in the months of May, June, July, and August. Canada geese normally return to the same breeding areas and no evidence presently exists documenting inter-breeding between Canada geese nesting within the lower 48 States and those subspecies nesting in northern Canada and Alaska.

Question. What is the status of resident Canada goose populations?

Answer. The Service's best estimate places the total number of resident Canada geese at 3.5 million. The population has increased dramatically during the past several decades. Presently, resident Canada goose populations in both the Atlantic and Mississippi Flyways exceed 1 million birds each and have increased an average of 14 and 6 percent per year, respectively, over the last 10 years. Indices of resident Canada geese in the Central Flyway are now approaching 1 million birds and populations in the western portions of the country have shown similar growth rates over the past 10 years.

Question. Why has their population grown so much that they have become a problem?

Answer. The rapid rise of resident Canada goose populations has been attributed to a number of factors.

Most resident Canada geese live in temperate climates with relatively stable breeding habitat conditions and low numbers of predators. They tolerate human and other disturbances, have a relative abundance of preferred habitat (especially those located in urban/suburban areas with current landscaping techniques), and fly relatively short distances to winter compared with other Canada goose populations. Additionally, Canada geese, like other geese, are long-lived birds. This combination of factors contributes to consistently high annual production and survival. Further, the virtual absence of waterfowl hunting in urban areas provides additional protection to those urban portions of the population. Given these characteristics, most resident Canada goose populations are continuing to increase in both rural and urban areas.

Question. What kind of problems do they cause?

Answer. Large flocks of resident Canada geese can denude grassy areas, including parks, pastures, golf courses, lawns, and other landscaped areas where the grass is kept short and where there are ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water nearby. At airports, resident Canada geese have become a significant safety threat, resulting in dangerous takeoff and landing conditions, costly repairs, and fatal airplane accidents. Excessive goose droppings are also a health concern, and have contributed to the temporary closure of public beaches in several States by local health departments. In addition, agricultural and natural resource damage, including depredation of grain crops, overgrazed pastures and degraded water quality, have increased as resident Canada goose populations have grown. Losses can be significant.

Question. What is a draft EIS and why was its preparation necessary?

Answer. An EIS is required by the National Environmental Policy Act to assess the potential environmental impacts of any proposed major Federal action and to offer reasonable alternatives. Since the purpose of the draft EIS is to evaluate alternative strategies to reduce, manage, and control resident Canada goose populations in the continental United States and to reduce related damages, any ultimate decision to implement an alternative strategy to manage resident Canada geese constitutes a major Federal action. The DEIS documents this assessment and, together with supporting documents, considerations, data, and public comments, will be used by the Service's Director to prepare a final EIS from which to select the appropriate alternative for implementation.

The DEIS is a comprehensive programmatic plan intended to guide and direct resident Canada goose population control and management activities in the conterminous United States.

The objective of the DEIS and any ultimate proposal is to provide a regulatory mechanism that will allow State and local agencies, other Federal agencies, and groups and individuals to respond to damage complaints or damages by resident Canada geese. Any strategy should be more effective than the current system; environmentally sound, cost-effective, and flexible enough to meet the variety of management needs found throughout the Flyways. Further, the management strategy should not threaten viable resident Canada goose populations, the objectives for which have been determined by each Flyway Council, and must be developed in accordance with the mission of the Service.

Question. What would happen to the resident Canada goose population if we did nothing?

Answer. With no action, the Service estimates that the population of resident geese in most areas would continue to increase until reaching the carrying capacity of the environment at some time in the future. As the populations grew, the conflicts would grow increasingly unbearable. In the Atlantic Flyway, we estimate that the population will approach 1.3 million in 5 years and 1.6 million in 10 years. In the Mississippi Flyway, we estimate that the population will approach 1.7 million in 5 years and 2.0 million in 10 years. In the Central Flyway, we estimate that the numbers will approach 1.3 million by 2010. In the Pacific Flyway, we estimate that the populations will approach 450,000 geese by 2010.

Question. What action does the Service propose to address the problem?

Answer. In light of the projected increases in resident Canada goose populations (despite past and current management actions), we believe a much more aggressive management program is warranted and must be implemented. Under the "State Empowerment" alternative, State wildlife management agencies would be provided flexibility to deal with the problems caused by resident Canada goose populations within their respective States. States could choose to implement specific strategies, such as specific depredation orders on nests and eggs, at airports, atagricultural areas, or at locations where public health may be an issue; expanded hunting opportunities; or other indirect and/or direct population control strategies. We believe the combination of various management strategies would successfully reduce numbers of resident Canada geese to more acceptable levels.

Question. Isn't the proposed action in the DEIS contrary to the protections afforded Canada geese by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)?

Answer. The MBTA provides strong measures for the protection and conservation of migratory birds (including resident Canada geese), while at the same time providing opportunities for people to use the resource for sport, recreation, and scientific endeavors. The MBTA also provides considerable flexibility for dealing with situations where birds may come into conflict with human interests, such as those posed by the increasing numbers of resident Canada geese.

Question. Why isn't the existing program adequate for dealing with resident Canada goose problems?

Answer. Normally, complex Federal and State responsibilities are involved with Canada goose control activities. All control activities, except those intended to either scare geese out of or preclude them from using a specific area (e.g., harassment, habitat management, or repellents), require a Federal permit issued by the Service. As the number of problems with resident Canada geese have continued to grow, the Service, with its State and Federal partners, believes alternative strategies are needed beyond those presently employed to reduce, manage, and control resident Canada goose populations in the continental United States and to reduce related damages. In this way, all agencies can provide the most responsible, cost-effective, biologically-sound, and efficient assistance available.

The Service has attempted to control and manage growing populations of resident Canada geese through existing annual hunting season frameworks (special and regular seasons), the issuance of control permits on a case-by-case basis, and special Canada goose permits. While this approach has provided relief in some areas, it has not completely addressed the problem. We realize that more management flexibility is necessary to meet the needs of the public. Because of the unique locations where large numbers of these geese nest, feed, and reside, we believe that new and innovative approaches and strategies for dealing with bird/human conflicts are necessary.

Question. I am currently suffering damage and other economic losses due to resident Canada geese. How does this help me?

Answer. Depending on what management strategies your State elects to implement, your damage and losses could be significantly reduced. For example, if you are an agricultural producer, your State could choose to allow you to aggressively harass resident Canada geese that are causing problems on your property.

Question. Why was the proposed action largely limited to situations between April 1 to August 31?

Answer. Migratory Canada goose populations interact and overlap with resident Canada goose populations during the fall and winter. Migratory Canada geese, therefore, could be impacted by management actions and programs targeted at reducing resident Canada goose populations during this time. To avoid potential conflicts with other Canada goose populations, most aspects of the proposed alternative are restricted to the period April 1 through August 31 each year. However, some resident Canada geese begin nesting in the early spring, and therefore the proposed alternative does allow the take of Canada goose nests and eggs during the entire month of March, since any nesting Canada geese in the U.S. would clearly be resident birds.

Question. What effect will the proposed alternative have on resident Canada goose populations?

Answer. Resident Canada goose number are so abundant (3.5 million) that even with these control measures, the Service estimates they will number approximately 2.1 million a decade from now. These measures may even benefit the population by reducing it to a level that is in better balance with available food and habitat.

Question. What impact will the proposed alternative have on existing sport-hunting opportunities?

Answer. Regular hunting seasons would be largely unaffected under the "State Empowerment" alternative. Most goose population reductions would occur in areas already closed to hunting or with limited hunting.

Alternatively, special hunting opportunities for resident Canada geese and potential harvest would be significantly increased. States could opt to increase and expand special hunting opportunities for resident Canada geese through newly-available hunting methods and an expansion of the special seasons. The proposed alternative would authorize the use of additional hunting methods, such as electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, and expanded shooting hours (one-half hour after sunset). During existing, operational, special September Canada goose seasons (i.e., September 1-15), these additional hunting methods would be available for use on an operational basis. Utilization of these additional hunting methods during any new special seasons or other existing, operational special seasons (i.e., September 15-30) could be approved as experimental and would require demonstration of a minimal impact to migrant Canada goose populations. All of these expanded hunting methods and opportunities would be in accordance with the existing Migratory Bird Treaty frameworks for sport hunting seasons (i.e, 107 day limit from September 1 to March 10) and would be conducted outside of any other open waterfowl season (i.e., when all other waterfowl and crane seasons were closed).

Additionally, States would be able to offer special expanded harvest opportunities during either the Treaty closed period (August 1-31) or the open period (September 1-15) of the Treaty. We would establish a Conservation Order under the authority of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, with the intent to reduce and/or stabilize resident Canada goose population levels. The Conservation Order would authorize each State in eligible areas to initiate aggressive resident Canada goose harvest strategies, with the intent to reduce the populations. The Order will enable States to use hunters to harvest resident Canada geese, during a period when all other waterfowl and crane hunting seasons, excluding falconry, are closed, inside or outside the migratory bird hunting season frameworks. The Order would also authorize the use of additional methods of take to harvest resident Canada geese during that period. Finally, the Conservation Order would authorize the use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns, liberalize daily bag limits on resident Canada geese, and allow shooting hours to continue until one-half hour after sunset.

Question. Would these new, expanded hunting provisions really make a difference?

Answer. The potential is definitely there. Available information from the use of additional hunting methods, such as electronic calls, unplugged shotguns, and expanded shooting hours, during the special light goose seasons indicates that total harvest increased approximately 50 - 69 percent. On specific days when light goose special regulations were in effect, the mean light goose harvest increased 244 percent. One study showed that lesser snow goose flocks were five times more likely to fly within gun range (#50 meters) in response to electronic calls than to traditional calls, and the mean number of snow geese killed per hour per hunter averaged 9.1 times greater for electronic calls than for traditional calls. Given a total special season harvest of approximately 520,000 geese, a 50 percent increase in special season and conservation season harvest would result in the harvest of an additional 260,000 resident Canada geese each year. A 70 percent increase in special season and conservation season harvest would result in an additional 364,000 resident Canada geese annually.

While we believe a more conservative estimate of the percentage increase in harvest attributable to the use of additional hunting methods within the hunting season frameworks would be 25 percent, this increase in special season harvest would still result in the harvest of an additional 130,000 Canada geese each year.

Question. What assurances are there that we would not overharvest these birds and harm the population?

Answer. In addition to required annual breeding surveys, the Service would annually assess the overall impact and effectiveness of the Conservation Order to ensure compatibility with long-term conservation of this resource. If at any time evidence is presented that clearly demonstrates that there no longer exists a serious threat of injury to the area or areas involved for a particular resident Canada goose population, we will initiate action to suspend the Conservation Order, and/or regular-season regulation changes, for that population. Suspension of regulations for a particular population would be made following a public review process.

Question. Aren't non-lethal control techniques effective in reducing conflicts between resident Canada geese and people?

Answer. The Service also prefers nonlethal control activities, such as habitat modification, as the first means of eliminating resident Canada goose conflict/damage problems. However, habitat modification and other harassment tactics do not always work satisfactorily and lethal methods are sometimes necessary to increase the effectiveness of nonlethal management methods.

While it is unlikely that all resident Canada goose/human conflicts can be eliminated in all urban settings, implementation of broad-scale resident Canada goose management activities may reduce the likelihood for other management actions, such as large-scale goose round-ups and lethal control.

Question. Doesn't the proposed alternative discourage States and other parties from investing in non-lethal, long-term solutions to resident Canada geese?

Answer. No. The State Empowerment alternative does not absolve affected parties from the responsibility of employing non-lethal control techniques. It simply provides additional tools for use in an integrated approach to reducing problems caused by resident Canada geese. We believe that the States and the public should share responsibility for reducing resident Canada goose problems and should promote other activities that exclude or repel resident Canada geese, as well as the use of non-lethal deterrents.

Question. What happens next and how do I make my views known?

Answer. The DEIS will be open for public comment until May 30. During the public comment period, we will hold a series of public meetings in areas experiencing conflicts with resident goose populations. The location, date and time of those meetings have not been determined but will be announced in a future notice in the Federal Register. After the public comment period closes and we review all of the public comments, we will prepare a final EIS recommending a preferred alternative or alternatives.


To obtain a copy of the DEIS, you may contact the Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at (703) 358-1714. Comments should be mailed to Chief, Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of the Interior, ms 634 ARLSQ, 1849 C Street NW., Washington, D.C. 20240. All comments received, including names and addresses, will become part of the public record. You can inspect comments during normal business hours in Room 634 Arlington Square Building, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, Virginia.



Please visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region website at
http://southeast.fws.gov.




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